COVID & Unemployment

Unemployment recipients aren’t getting support they’re eligible for, report finds

David Brancaccio and Nova Safo Dec 1, 2020
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Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Unemployment recipients aren’t getting support they’re eligible for, report finds

David Brancaccio and Nova Safo Dec 1, 2020
Heard on:
Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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When it comes to joblessness in this country, we’ve been miscounting and paying too little in unemployment assistance. That’s according to a new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

Marketplace’s Nova Safo joined “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio to discuss its findings.

Nova Safo: Among the two big takeaways in this report is the finding that a lot of people have been shortchanged on the aid they’re entitled to. This has to do with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — that’s the one the federal government funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, meant for people who don’t qualify for regular state unemployment aid, like gig workers.

The Government Accountability Office found that after the $600 in weekly supplemental aid from the federal government expired over the summer, in 29 of the 41 states that reported data, unemployed people were getting paid less than the $245 a week needed to remain above the federal poverty line. That’s less than Congress intended for them to get.

David Brancaccio: And why is that?

Safo: States had a flood of claims initially, so they started by paying out the minimum amount allowed by law, just to get money out to people quickly. The idea was they’d later process documentation and proof of income, and pay back what people are owed.

In a lot of states, that still hadn’t happened as of late fall. On top of that, in 13 states, regular state unemployment aid left many people below the poverty line, as well.

In the meantime, the backlog is partly to blame for another problem, which is that we’re not getting an accurate count of how many people are jobless.

The Labor Department counts claims, not people. So if one person has multiple weeks of claims — due to the backlog, or just the way some states process [claims], doing multiple weeks at once — that can cause inflated figures.

That means we’re not getting an accurate picture of the unemployment crisis itself.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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